At The People Piece, our clients often tell us that they want their people to take more ownership of their work, responsibilities, and roles in their organizations. They say, “Instead of passing the buck, we want people to take responsibility, develop solutions, and take action to improve things. We want them to go above and beyond, even if it’s outside their role.”
It’s not surprising. Organizations and teams with higher levels of ownership exhibit greater productivity, efficiency, and innovation. Team members are happier, and so are customers. And because the burden of leadership is shared more evenly, managers and leaders get to spend more time on important strategic functions instead of fighting fires.
While having an Ownership Culture is clearly beneficial, creating one can be challenging. Announcing to your team, “From now on, we want everyone to step up and own things more” doesn’t tend to cut it. In fact, doing so can backfire, creating resentment and mistrust.
So, how can leaders, managers, and team members engage in smart actions to drive ownership among their employees and peers? In our experience, these 4 tools are key:
1. Connect to purpose
As children, the first question many of us ask is: Why? And we never stop asking, seeking to understand the world around us. The drive to understand doesn’t end when we’re at work.
One of the most powerful ways to drive ownership is to help your team members understand how what everyone does matters and fits into the bigger picture. Not only does a sense of purpose increase motivation, it fosters an environment where team members can take the reins because they understand goals and dependencies.
Engage your people’s rational minds through numbers, plans, and bullets points, and appeal to their emotional centers through stories, images, and aspirational language. (Why both? Chip and Dan Heath explain in their book Switch.)
2. Ask a lot more questions
You can’t expect people to own things as theirs if most of the ideas and directions come from you. Even the most well-meaning, empowering managers and leaders can benefit from a hefty dose of one simple practice: asking more questions.
Asking “What do you think we should do?” or “What could you do to solve that problem?” can naturally put team members in an ownership frame and drive commitment.
The best way to get people talking, thinking, and often, acting, is to ask questions. As leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni says, “If you don’t weigh in, you can’t buy in.”
3. Insist on solutions
Bake a solution-orientation into your organization’s values and expected behaviors, and model the way yourself.
Each time someone gets into an old pattern of throwing their hands up, ask them, “What can you do?” If they need more direction, be more specific. Try asking “Would you come up with 3 possible ways we can solve this, along with recommendations for action and suggested next steps?”
Repetition and consistency pay off, and will help shift mindsets and behaviors towards change through solutions and problem solving.
4. Let go of control
Lastly, if you want people to truly feel a sense of ownership, you need to let go of some of it yourself. Would you design that initiative better than your employee? In some cases, almost certainly. But if you do most of the ideation and planning, it becomes a lot harder for others to feel a true sense of ownership.
If you truly want to drive ownership in your organization, you need to bite the bullet and let go of control. Only then will people feel more like the work, the outcomes, and even the organization are truly theirs.
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Building an Ownership Culture can be challenging, especially if people have been passing the buck for years. Trying to get people out of a mode of being “good enough”—or worse, being a “victim”—often challenges deep-seated behaviors and beliefs. Yet over time, we’ve found that individuals, teams, and organizations can shift into new ways of thinking and acting.
Remember that success doesn’t just mean increased productivity, efficiency, and innovation—it also means happier people, healthier cultures, and an organization where everybody leads.
And that’s something we hope that you’ll keep working toward every day.
Roni and The People Piece team
PS - Want to drive ownership in your team, group, or organization? Get in touch to learn more about how our comprehensive, customized development programs have helped develop ownership cultures at tech companies, global sales organizations, and public utilities in the US, Europe, and Asia.